Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, TV

To my family and friends on the occasion of Christmas, 2020

Episodes of Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” air on a special channel of PlutoTV.

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, paragraph stacker, Des Moines, Iowa.

The internet streaming service Pluto offers a channel that plays reruns of “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson,” minus the musical acts.

Watching Carson’s monologue would be an interesting way to study history. We tend to think things are the worst they’ve ever been.

If you judge by Carson’s jokes, we always have.

During a show from 1989, Carson told a joke about a TV movie about the last days of Richard Nixon as president.

“It reminded us of the terrifying days when Spiro Agnew was just a heartbeat away from the presidency,” Carson said. “Now, that doesn’t seem so bad.”

The audience laughed.

The president at the time Carson made the joke was George H.W. Bush, who was hailed as a hero of the World War II generation when he died in 2018.

Dan Quayle was vice president and the punchline of the joke.

People joked that Quayle was too young to be vice president. Editorials often depicted Quayle as a little boy. He once misspelled “potato” in front of a room full of schoolchildren.

Quayle was 42 years old when Carson made that joke in 1989.

I’m three years older than Quayle was then. I feel too old to be vice president. I’m not nearly a good enough speller.

People often talk about their past as simpler times. That’s not true.

Pluto plays Carson shows from the 1970s through the 1990s. A show from the 1970s makes jokes about inflation under Nixon.

Another episode talks about high gas prices during the energy crisis under Carter.

Carson dressed as George Washington in one gag and said fellow farmer Carter piled his manure higher.

Shows in the late 1980s poked fun at the rising Japanese investors buying up American icons such as Rockefeller Center in New York.

I doubt if you polled anyone in the audience of those Carson shows, they would have described their life as simple. Humans are complicated. Life around them is, too.

I think life was quieter then. Everybody yells these days. And technology has given a lot of people powerful tools to be louder than when they had to manually type their manifestos in cabins.

I wonder how many crazy people with truly terrible ideas just gave up because going to the post office was a hassle. They just had a beer and watched a ballgame.

2020 was a hard year both personally and for the whole world. I don’t feel like recounting all the ways why. That’s excessive and we are fully stocked on excessive.

Instead, I recall a story from my friend David Oman, former chief of staff to both Iowa Govs. Bob Ray and Terry Branstad.

The story started on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001. David picked up his son, Graham, from school.

Graham asked what was wrong. His mother usually picked him up from school. David tried to tell Graham, then-6, about the buildings attacked in New York and Washington, D.C.

“It’s a bad day,” David remembered saying.

Graham said, “I think it’s a good day.”

This shocked David. He asked his boy why he thought that.

“Well,” the child said, “today is the newest day. And somewhere somebody invented something.”

Only children can pull a thread of hope out of such grim moment. Maybe that’s the simplicity people remember. The simplicity of hope.

I hope you’re still surprised.

I hope you’re still awed.

I hope you smile often and laugh easily.

I hope you read.

I hope you imagine.

I hope you create.

I hope you have a moment in the flurry of wrapping paper, cacophony of joyful noises and bellyful of food that your mind slows down so that your thoughts fit between the ticks of a clock and you realize just how nice all of this really is.

I hope you all have a happy Christmas and a merry New Year.

With love and hope,

dpf

Daniel P. Finney is a five-time winner of the Long Winter’s Nap contest.
des moines, humor, Media, mental health, Pop Culture, TV

HOT SHEET: The joys of Carson repeats, pining for Letterman and the reruns that numb the age of COVID

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, hot seat editor, 24th Street bureau, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM FIRST: PlutoTV has added a channel with classic episodes of “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.” Carson also airs at 9 p.m. weeknights on the over-the-air digital-plus network Antenna TV, which is channel 13.3 in Des Moines. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker lived in a house without strict bedtimes, so he watched a lot of late-night TV as a boy. The typist is happy to see the late Corning, Iowa, native on TV and streaming again.

ITEM TWO: The typist enjoyed Carson, but always felt he was a warm-up for “Late Night with David Letterman.” Watching Letterman, especially in his “Late Night” years, felt like you were really getting away with something. He was the guy throwing pencils out the window and invisible glass. He was harassing NBC’s new owners, General Electric. In the early days, he wore jeans and wrestling shoes. The sketches were rickety and bizarre, almost as if they were designed to fail and that failure generated all the fun. Letterman was always there as the too-cool-for-school guy who flippantly thumbed his nose at convention, mocked TV tropes even as he created them and even dared to make both the guests, the audience and certainly himself uncomfortable.

ITEM THREE: The Hot Sheet notes all of this because our burning desire is to relive those memories again. In the early 2000s, NBCUniversal slated “Late Night with David Letterman” episodes on the short-lived cable network Trio. Since then, we’ve been left to grainy VHS clips posted on YouTube. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if NBCUniversal dusted off those masters and started spinning them on one of the digital plus or streaming services again? The ol’ Paragraph Stacker’s eyeballs would be glued there several hours a day.

ITEM FOUR: The Hot Sheet ran this idea by his buddy and podcast partner Memphis Paul. His response: “We are spoiled for choice these days.”

ITEM FIVE: The typist found the reply someone deflating, but still valued the perspective. Seeing Carson on PlutoTV is like learning someone brought home the best ice cream in town and then complaining that you don’t have hot fudge topping with whipped cream and a cherry.

ITEM SIX: So, in the spirit of enjoying what is rather than wishing for more, the Stacker notes PlutoTV has apparently added a few new stories to its “Doctor Who” channel including at least two Dalek stories. This could be to pump up Dalek excitement for the upcoming “festive season” episode of the revived “Doctor Who” series titled “Revolution of the Daleks.” Streaming Dalek stories is often troubled by rights issues with estate of Terry Nation, the writer who created the creatures. Britain has different copyright laws that give creators much greater ownership than in the United States, where everything a person creates for a company is owned by the company that pays them. Nation’s estate has sometimes been prickly about allowing certain stories, such as the masterpiece, “Genesis of the Daleks,” from streaming. Twitch managed to get rights sorted out when it did a multi-week marathon of every remaining classic “Who” story a few years ago. PlutoTV’s offering has been light on Dalek stories, so it’s a boon to see the tin-plated pepper pots menacing the universe on a free streaming service.

ITEM SEVEN: If this edition seems a bit less newsy than previous Hot Sheets, well, that’s part circumstance and part design. The circumstance is COVID cases are spiking. The typist wants no part of COVID. He survived pneumonia in February and has asthma. So, that means he’s spending a lot of time at home with the TV on. He chooses comforting old series, such as “M*A*S*H,” “Doctor Who” and Carson or live sports rather than news-heavy programing. Besides, do you really need another voice complaining about how divided our politics are, canceled Thanksgivings and other sad-sack stuff of the era? The typist thinks not. The other reason there isn’t a lot of news commentary in these stacks relates to that big announcement that the typist regrets to inform you is still pending. Be patient. He’s anxious to tell you the news nugget, but only when things are final.

ITEM LAST: As a reminder, this blog will be made private sometime in the next few weeks. That means you’ll have to request access to it. To avoid the hassle, go over to http://paragraphstacker.com and find the big “FOLLOW” button. On a desktop, it will be to the right near the top. On a mobile device, such as smartphone or tablet, it will be at the bottom of the page. Enter your email. Respond to confirm and every post lands in your inbox.

Try this for a deep, dark secret: the great detective, Daniel P. Finney? He doesn’t exist. I invented him. Follow. I always loved excitement, so I studied, and apprenticed, and put my name on an office. But absolutely nobody knocked down my door. A female private investigator seemed so… feminine. So I invented a superior. A decidedly MASCULINE superior. Suddenly there were cases around the block. It was working like a charm… until the day HE walked in, with his blue eyes and mysterious past. And before I knew it, he assumed Daniel P. Finney’s identity. Now I do the work, and he takes the bows. It’s a dangerous way to live, but as long as people buy it, I can get the job done. We never mix business with pleasure. Well, almost never. I don’t even know his real name!

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.